George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley shot to fame as the 80s’ dreamiest pop duo. Their friendship blossomed into superstardom, but as WHAM!, Netflix’s new documentary proves, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows all the time.
WHAM! uses only archive footage of the pair, including some never-before-seen material, which will be a treat for the pair’s fans. The voiceover, mostly by George and Andrew, is gathered from old interviews and stitched together, telling the story of these two lads from Bushey who would one day be credited for improving the relationship between China and the West by performing to thousands of screaming fans there.
The question at the heart of WHAM! is, as put by the duo themselves, “how did these two idiots become so massive?” It’s not hard to see why they struck a chord with the teens of the day; two good-looking lads with immaculately coiffed hair and lyrics like “I may not have a job but I have a good time” has always been the recipe for success.
As a technical achievement, WHAM! is a marvel. Much like The Princess in 2022, WHAM! utilises old footage to tell a well-known story from a new, more personal perspective. Director Chris Smith swiftly and efficiently covers a lot of ground here, not exactly revealing anything new but sufficiently recapping Wham!’s biggest highlights and low points. The whole idea behind the documentary is clearly to let George (who died in 2016) and Andrew tell their own story, but the effect isn’t quite as powerful as you’d hope.
What WHAM! lacks is an objective perspective and some boldness. There’s no real effort to dig deeper than the surface or to challenge anything we already know about George and Andrew’s history. George’s sexuality is covered, but it always feels like an afterthought, which is troubling considering how tumultuous the 1980s were for gay people.
The documentary mostly plays out like a Wikipedia entry of the duo rather than anything offering real insight into their lives in the spotlight. The film also only covers Wham! until their final performance in 1986 at Wembley, with only a few bits of text to explain what happened after.
Some parts of the documentary are genuinely interesting; the aforementioned performance in China is intriguing but like everything else in WHAM!, it’s glossed over quickly with no real effort to demonstrate why it was such a big deal. The early segments of the film paint a shallow picture of the late 70s and early 80s with unemployment rife, but most of WHAM! is seen through rose-tinted glasses, with no clear idea of the time in which Wham! became so popular.
WHAM! is clearly a documentary for the fans. There’s a lot of love and nostalgia towards the biggest pop duo of the 80s, but Smith wastes an opportunity to delve deeper into the often thorny relationship between the two friends, who had to come to terms with George’s meteoritic rise in popularity. There was a better, more compelling story to be told here.
WHAM! is in cinemas for one night only on 27 June and streaming on Netflix 5 July.